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The University of Coimbra develops world pioneer particle accelerator for cancer diagnosis

8 february, 2019
New ICNAS double energy cyclotron
New ICNAS double energy cyclotron
© UC | Rui Marques Simões

The University of Coimbra (UC) is again at the forefront of the production of radiopharmaceuticals. The Institute of Nuclear Sciences Applied to Health of UC (ICNAS) will host a double energy cyclotron developed in cooperation with the Belgian company Ion Applications (IBA), the biggest world producer of cyclotrons. This innovative particle accelerator, pioneer at world level, will allow the optimization of the production of Gallium-68, one of the isotopes produced at ICNAS, used in the diagnosis of cancer.
The double energy – it allows the extraction of the beam of protons from 13 to 18 MeV (mega electron volt) – is the major advancement of the new particle accelerator. “Besides the conventional 18 MeV of the models available in the market, this cyclotron allows the extraction at 13 MeV, which optimizes the production of Gallium-68”, explains Francisco Alves, ICNAS researcher and coordinator of the project.

Gallium-68 is an isotope used to mark radiopharmaceuticals, which are used in advanced techniques to diagnose cancer, through Positron Emission Tomography (PET), and it plays a crucial role in the new approaches that combine the diagnosis and the treatment of the disease (know as theranostics). ICNAS has been at the forefront of the development of the production processes of this isotope using an innovative method with liquid targets, patented by the University of Coimbra and replicated at other research and clinical centres worldwide.

The director of ICNAS, Antero Abrunhosa – who is the author of the aforementioned patent, together with Francisco Alves and Vitor Alves –, underlines that “the installation of the first model of a double energy cyclotron is one more milestone in the translational strategy that has been followed by ICNAS, linking research and clinical application, with a view to an efficient and swift implementation to the benefit of the patients”.

“This new accelerator opens new avenues to the research conducted at the University of Coimbra, as it endows us with the capacity to study and produce a wide range of isotopes for medical application at lower costs. This second cyclotron of ICNAS highlights the leading role of the University of Coimbra in this scientific field”, states the Rector of UC, João Gabriel Silva.

ICNAS is ten years old in 2019 and it has already developed production processes of more than 20 molecules (with clinical and research application in PET) and it is a world-leading organisation in the production of Gallium-68, Copper-64 and Copper-61 in liquid targets.

The project of development and implementation of the double energy cyclotron implied an investment of over 2 million euros equally borne by the University of Coimbra and IBA. “The return is on the possibility of giving access to new advanced diagnosis methods for oncologic patients”, adds Antero Abrunhosa. IBA anticipates that other institutions will be interested in this innovative particle accelerator after its refinement at UC.

News article: Rui Marques Simões
Translation: Rita Maia
Publication date: 08-02-2019